Participatory democracy #infuturemelbourne


Melbourne is projected to be a big city, so it should start thinking like a big city.

Dr George Quezada, Innovation Scientist


I’ve just completed day 1 (of 3) for the Future Melbourne 2026 Citizens’ Jury process. We on the jury are a bunch of 60-odd randomly selected residents and business owners of the City of Melbourne who are helping to deliver the third and final phase of the council’s Future Melbourne plan to 2026.


This involves delving in detail into the report Future Melbourne 2026: Bringing your ideas together, and deciding on the final goals and principles to put forward to the six Future Melbourne Ambassadors to take to Council in August 2016.

I’m passionate about the future of this city, and wanted to be a part of this jury process to speak up from a library-loving, learning-focussed perspective. I’m interested in getting across the idea of needing good governance and planning in place for as-yet-unknown applications of new technologies throughout the city. I want to learn more about how to contribute to making this a sustainable city. Working in the information management world, I want to speak for sustainability of knowledge and information – particularly if there are to be improvements and increases in the partnerships between research organisations, government, and business, in order to drive innovative new projects.

The quote that opens this post is from guest speaker on day 1, George Quezada, an Innovation Scientist at Data61.

George noted that as people are able to access more information, and more data, about various processes that govern our everyday lives, and as they begin to analyse that data, those people will increasingly be able to challenge those in authority.

Transparency of information enables empowerment through increased knowledge.

George talked about the idea of establishing ‘future precincts’ in cities, and pointed to one example,  Samford Commons, which he is putting his energy into delivering after receiving substantial funding from The Moreton Bay Regional Council. The Samford Commons annual report from October 2015 expands the concept of their model in more detail.

Future precincts have captured my imagination: they are spaces that can’t be prescribed in advance; they must remain as free, constantly changeable spaces that will sow the seeds for new strategies to emerge to manage cities better. They must have the freedom to experiment with bold visionary ideas in a space that is conducive for careful failure. Samford Commons states that it will:

Host conferences, conduct accredited environmental management programs, sell natural produce, hold demonstration field days, conduct school programs, support sustainable industry co-working, manage a connection to the broader community and provide daily programs and innovative activities for businesses, schools, tourists, community members and on-line clients.


This is one way to tackle future challenges – for governments, councils, and citizens to be guided by the learnings and failings of these future precincts. As George put it, future precincts are demonstrations of a resilience strategy – providing outcomes from new modes of operating, these precincts may provide a means for a community to meet unexpected challenges. And it can be done much more effectively by utilising the strengths of all sectors – research, business, government, in increasingly connected ways.

Taking these ideas for the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Records (GLAMR) sector, wouldn’t it be great to have an information/cultural heritage voice in these future precinct spaces, for testing out new theories, ways of doing, ways of interacting with other sectors, and the community? Having true convergence and experimentation between sectors to learn from each other’s wins and fails?

The iGLAM research centre comes to my mind, the Laboratory for Innovation in Galleries, Libraries, Archives and Museums, as a prototype that could be put forward to begin to play in this wider space in partnership with government, business, and communities.

I was also reminded of the Innovation Study from 2014, Challenges and opportunities for Australia’s galleries, libraries, archives and museums, which clearly identified four strategic initiatives:

  1. Making the public part of what we do
  2. Becoming central to community wellbeing
  3. Beyond digitisation – creative reuse
  4. Developing funding for strategic initiatives

This report is an interesting read, particularly as various milestones for 2016 are detailed in it. And I’m also thinking a lot about how my voice on this jury can help further the agenda to ‘make the public part of what we do’ and especially how we can become even more ‘central to community wellbeing’.

Other notable things that stood out for me about my citizen jury experience:

Ben Rimmer, Chief Executive Officer of the City of Melbourne, spoke to us about the challenges around balancing the different needs of residents, business, students, visitors –and drilled into this further by explaining how difficult it can be to balance financing and resourcing for the basic everyday essentials that run a city, versus the ‘nice-to-do’ elements that enhance a city. He mentioned that the ‘nice-to-do’ extras that the City of Melbourne invests in are exactly the things that make Melbourne a great city. Another of Ben’s observations was that tech developments are coming ‘thick and fast’ to change the way our city operates (robots in the drains, location services technology placed in rubbish bins, autonomous cars not too far away now) – and his ‘professional guess’ that the next ten years will see technology change have the biggest implications for the city.

Maria Katsonis, Director, Equality, in the Department of Premier and Cabinet (Victoria), is one of the Future Melbourne Ambassadors. She spoke about the importance of workplaces allowing and enforcing an allowance of bringing your true, authentic self to work everyday. As she said to us, ‘two years ago, I wouldn’t have been wearing rainbow shoelaces to work’, pointing to her colourful laces. Maria spoke of Richard Florida’s The rise of the creative class, and how it raises the question, can you attract a certain type of person to a city?

Maria’s parting consideration for us was most interesting, as it echoed what I’d heard in a lot of the discussions during the day. When going through the report, and deciding and debating what’s in and what’s out, we should always be thinking: who’s excluded from this plan? Does it truly reflect the needs of our diverse community? Does everyone have a voice, a place in it?

Kate Auty, another of the Ambassadors, in response to my question wondering who the visionary leaders are in the sustainability sector that she looks to, that we can seek out – the change agents – she answered, ‘It’s all of you – you’re all leaders. Start where you are, and organise’. Her example of this idea in action came from her experience, being involved in a campaign seeking (successfully) to change some entrenched mindsets (a group of farmers) toward climate change.

This jury day was extremely intense. It was a day of testing assumptions, questioning, and learning.

For anyone considering a chance to participate in this kind of process in future, here are some select thoughts gathered from myself and others about our day, paraphrased:


Participatory democracy feels like proper governance, the way things should be.

There is a feeling of more investment already in the outcomes, over just one day – much more so than going to the ballot box and picking from a bunch of fixed policies.

Diversity is all about inclusivity.


It seems to me that participatory democracy is something that the community is hungering for: this two-way communication activity that has been offered to us has been accepted, and trust that the council will implement our work has been established.

This process is invigorating. At the end of day 1, I’m completely engaged with and addicted to citizen-led and citizen-influenced democracy.

The challenge for me on the next two jury days is to look beyond my priorities and areas of interest to see how they fit in with the bigger picture goals of this process – to refresh the goals of a city for the people, one that is creative, prosperous, full of knowledge, sustainable, and connected, and that reflects a bold and brave vision of what Melbourne could be in 2026.


Convergence agents & librarian badasses

On this, the eve of the introduction of mandatory data retention laws in Australia, it seems fitting that this Tweet was the first thing I looked at today:

Last week I attended two events where data retention was a hot topic: the inaugural Swinburne Internet Policy Workshop (5 October 2015 | SIPW) organised by the Swinburne Institute of Social Research’s Digital Society Group, and the Australian Internet Governance Forum (6-7 October 2015 | auIGF).

The SIPW and the auIGF covered diverse issues: gender and the internet, Indigenous communities and internet access, public policy and innovation, metadata retention, ethics and regulation, and social protests. While the auIGF aimed to be more of a public forum for community groups, government, and the media, the SIPW was a little more of a research-focused academic event.

I was really alarmed at the SIPW after listening to Associate Professor Jennifer Holt speak (a talk based on this paper), especially as she predicted that soon it may not be possible to use government services without being forced to log in with a ‘digital passport’ provided by Google or Facebook. Is this what the internet is becoming? This is not freedom.

Also at the SIPW there was talk of how journalists have been unfairly targeted if they are seen to be speaking out about metadata retention.

I worry about the loss of intrepid, fearless journalism under these new laws, especially after attending the 2015 A.N. Smith Lecture in Journalism given by Sarah Ferguson.

The Media, Entertainment & Arts Alliance paints a grim picture of the incoming laws, saying that they “make every citizen a suspect, seek to intimidate and silence whistleblowers, and crush public interest journalism“.

On Twitter, fierce defenders of privacy have been sharing resources and instructions about how ordinary citizens can go about defending their online rights.

Events like the SIPW and auIgf are extremely helpful for professional development – and for me, arguably better than any formal education has proven to be for this kind of knowledge-gathering. These events also give a voice to what I’ve decided to call “convergence agents” – interdisciplinary researchers, educators, activists, and information professionals who have a vision and a mission to both disrupt and add to research endeavours in many different fields – technology, law, policy, education, and information. Convergence agents are agents for change, as they have a broad grasp of the basic elements of different fields that they can pull together to make real change happen.

I think we need more information professionals who aspire to be convergence agents, especially in government and industry. We need to walk in the corridors of power with the potentially powerful skill sets we have, to work towards implementing systems, procedures, and policies that enable online privacy and access for all, so that we can truly become the information-wrangling ‘badasses’ we need to be.

NOTE: The live tweeting was excellent at SIPW and is well worth scrolling through for a flavour of what went on during the day.

#contextiseverything Whyte Memorial Lecture 2015

Last week I attended the annual Whyte Memorial Lecture, given by Professor Ross Harvey.

The Whyte Memorial Lecture honours the late Jean Whyte (foundation professor in the Graduate School of Librarianship at Monash University, Victoria, Australia) and her sister Phyllis, who left bequests to Monash to support research in librarianship, records, and archives.

In this year’s lecture: Keeping, forgetting, and misreading digital material: libraries learning from archives and recordkeeping practice, Harvey extolled the benefits of archival principles, and called for them to be used for managing digital materials.

“There is much in the toolkit of the archivist that could better equip librarians faced with managing digital materials in ways that ensure that they are not misread and misused in the future – not the least, an understanding of provenance and the preservation of context.”

What Harvey’s lecture did for me was prompt me to reflect on my current professional role. As an information manager working with a repository of grey literature resources that help inform public policy making in a wide range of areas, I now am certain that I must apply archival thinking to the way I do things. I am fortunate in that my role is one without a defined roadmap, and I have to constantly seek out best practice in a lot of different areas: schema development, taxonomy creation, research data management, and linked open data, in order to implement frameworks that work for our resources.

Harvey also spoke of the benefits to be gained from collaboration with others working in different sectors of the information professions. I realised that this is something I already do, both in my workplace and also on other outside projects.

Together with the IT developer at my workplace, we hope to soon mesh our skills to implement ways to provide context for people, organisations, places, and programs, so our resources can become much more than just the sum of their metadata-y parts. Because we collect resources relevant to policy and practice, we have to be preparing now for government changes, as department names inevitably change (often without warning) and sometimes an entire website’s links will go dead for some of the resources we collect. Hello, my old friend the 404 error message.

Image from:

Thanks to this collaboration with IT expertise, I am lucky to have had the chance to learn about systems and machines, and to realise that we need to speak the language of the machine to make things happen the way we want (until they learn to speak our language, by which point they may well take over and decide that our fleshy forms aren’t worth much and machines will rule what’s left of our planet, THANKS Stephen Hawking for giving me nightmares. At least it looks unlikely that robots will take the jobs of archivists or curators, but librarians might be a little worried, and library clerks and assistants – look out!).

I think of myself as an archivally-minded digital librarian – and after Harvey’s lecture I am certain that it is time to step up and make changes to ensure the sustainability of the information I manage. In my current work role, I realise that I need to be implementing the best parts of the archival process now, so that in 10, 20, 50 years, and beyond, people will be able to trace the influential research that was informing policy making, and who was creating it. And most importantly in my mind, I have to provide persistent access to the stuff. There are challenges involved – we work with open source Drupal for a start, with all its interesting, innovative modules (our DOI-minting module is one such undertaking), and its limitations (Drupal depends on its engaged developer community) – but these challenges are not insurmountable, given creative thinking.

It is such an exciting time to be working in this space, and with established professionals like Harvey telling us to ‘get our heads out of the sand’ and promote our skills more widely, it is most definitely time for radical-thinking information professionals to join forces and start making changes to the way we conduct our practice of managing information.

This is a challenge that could perhaps be answered by one inspiring development in Melbourne, Australia – the Galleries, Libraries, Archives, Museums, and Records (GLAMR) New Professionals Group that provides face-to-face forums for all sectors of the information professions to meet and share experiences. This group has the potential to become a strong, powerful representation of the new vanguard of information professionals entering the industry aware that we need to fully utilise all of our different skills for the effective and sustainable management of digital resources.

I am so fortunate to have worked with an archivist and a knowledge manager in other project work, and as a result of this collaboration, my knowledge has already increased exponentially. And yet, I realise there is so much more to learn.

I can feel myself becoming a new breed of information professional, no longer simply ‘librarian’ or ‘archivist’. I am becoming armed with a well-rounded knowledge of how these previously separate disciplines approach common information management problems, and an awareness that together we could do so much more to preserve and provide access to the world’s information.

I must give a thank you to Professor Ross Harvey for a considered yet radical speech, and a thank you to Monash University and the generosity of Jean and Phyllis Whyte that makes this annual lecture possible.

Who knows, perhaps a future Whyte Memorial Lecture could be a group presentation about the radical new changes the GLAMR New Professionals Group makes happen – I’m putting the challenge out there, and I’m mightily keen to be involved in the information profession revolution.

Extra bits
Professor Harvey spoke of many other things in his lecture not touched on in this blog post – preservation, self-archiving digital objects, and the curation of collections by individuals. The full paper is well worth a read.

For another rundown of the event, see Michelle De Aizpurua’s blog post.

To get a sense of the live experience, here’s the Storify, thanks to all the live tweeters.